Cut federal funds for French, statistician urges

December 07, 2007, Kate Jaimet:

For the past decade, statistician Charles Castonguay has been predicting the demise of francophone communities outside Quebec.

Now, with census data showing a continuing slide in native French-speakers outside Quebec, he says it's time to cut off federal government life-support to the shrinking francophone outposts.

"It 's money down the drain," said Mr. Castonguay, an adjunct professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Ottawa. "Not in Ottawa, not in [eastern] Ontario or New Brunswick, but outside of those areas, the strength of English is just overwhelming."

But the head of the organization that represents minority francophones says the government should increase its commitment, putting billions of dollars into bolstering French outside of Quebec.

"I hope that the census data sends a very clear signal to the government that we have to act, that we have to really have concrete investments, on the ground, if we want to make a difference," said Lise Routhier-Boudreau, president of the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada.

The 2006 census information released this week by Statistics Canada show that the number of people who speak mainly French at home declined between 2001 and 2006 in all anglophone provinces from Saskatchewan to Newfoundland.

In Newfoundland, the number of French speakers plummeted by 27%, followed by 12% in Saskatchewan, 10% in Nova Scotia, and smaller declines in Ontario, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Manitoba.

Even in Alberta, where the number of French speakers grew, that increase of 3.3% did not keep pace with the province's overall 11% population growth between 2001 and 2006.

Similarly, the number of people who registered French as their mother tongue sank by 13% in Newfoundland, 10% in Saskatchewan, and also declined in P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba. Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia posted modest gains in the number of native francophones, but none kept pace with the overall population increase in those provinces.

In Newfoundland, there were only 25 babies up to the age of four whose mother tongue was registered as French on the 2006 census.

"There are places where it's almost catastrophic," Ms. Routhier-Boudreau said.

The statistics also show that, as they reach adulthood, francophones in all provinces outside of Quebec continue to switch over to living their lives mainly in English.

Looking at the critical age group between 20 and 34 -- when people typically get married and establish families -- there are 158,350 francophones outside of Quebec. But only 63% of them use French as their main language at home.

People who said they used both English and French, or French and another language at home, are not included in this figure.

The assimilation picture is rosiest for francophones in New Brunswick, where 92% of francophones aged 20-34 continue to speak French at home.

Things are bleakest in Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, where more than half of native francophones aged 20-34 no longer speak French as their main home language.

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